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Cheaper, Lighter, Quieter: The Electrification of Flight Is at Hand

Our small electric plane, which uses light and powerful batteries and motors, is less costly than its gasoline-engine rivals

10 min read
photo of electric plane
Photo: Bye Aerospace

When you first sit in the cockpit of an electric-powered airplane, you see nothing out of the ordinary. However, touch the Start button and it strikes you immediately: an eerie silence. There is no roar, no engine vibration, just the hum of electricity and the soft whoosh of the propeller. You can converse easily with the person in the next seat, without headphones. The silence is a boon to both those in the cockpit and those on the ground below.

You rev the motor not with a throttle but a rheostat, and its high torque, available over a magnificently wide band of motor speeds, is conveyed to the propeller directly, with no power-sapping transmission. At 20 kilograms (45 pounds), the motor can be held in two hands, and it measures only 10 centimeters deep and 30 cm in diameter. An equivalent internal-combustion engine weighs about seven times as much and occupies some 120 by 90 by 90 cm. In part because of the motor’s wonderful efficiency—it turns 95 percent of its electrical energy directly into work—an hour’s flight in this electric plane consumes just US $3 worth of electricity, versus $40 worth of gasoline in a single-engine airplane. With one moving part in the electric motor, e-planes also cost less to maintain and, in the two-seater category, less to buy in the first place.

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A Transistor for Sound Points Toward Whole New Electronics

“Topological” acoustic transistor suggests circuits with dissipationless flow of electricity or light

3 min read
Model of a honeycomb lattice

Model of a honeycomb lattice that serves as the basis for a "transistor" of sound waves—whose design suggests new kinds of transistors of light and electricity, made from so-called topological materials. Electrons in a topological transistor, it is suspected, would flow without any resistance.

Hoffman Lab/Harvard SEAS

Potential future transistors that consume far less energy than current devices may rely on exotic materials called "topological insulators" in which electricity flows across only surfaces and edges, with virtually no dissipation of energy. In research that may help pave the way for such electronic topological transistors, scientists at Harvard have now invented and simulated the first acoustic topological transistors, which operate with sound waves instead of electrons.

Topology is the branch of mathematics that explores the nature of shapes independent of deformation. For instance, an object shaped like a doughnut can be deformed into the shape of a mug, so that the doughnut's hole becomes the hole in the cup's handle. However, the object couldn't lose the hole without changing into a fundamentally different shape.

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Taking Cosmology to the Far Side of the Moon

New Chinese program plans to use satellites in lunar orbit to study faint signals from early universe

3 min read
crescent moon
Darwin Fan/Getty Images

A team of Chinese researchers are planning to use the moon as a shield to detect otherwise hard-to-observe low frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum and open up a new window on the universe. The Discovering the Sky at the Longest Wavelengths (DSL) mission aims to seek out faint, low-frequency signals from the early cosmos using an array of 10 satellites in lunar orbit. If it launches in 2025 as planned, it will offer one of the very first glimpses of the universe through a new lens.

Nine “sister” spacecraft will make observations of the sky while passing over the far side of the moon, using our 3,474-kilometer-diameter celestial neighbor to block out human-made and other electromagnetic interference. Data collected in this radio-pristine environment will, according to researchers, be gathered by a larger mother spacecraft and transmitted to Earth when the satellites are on the near side of the moon and in view of ground stations.

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Rohde & Schwarz

In this webinar you will learn more about solutions for high test speeds and throughput as well as how to cover multiple tests with one set-up.

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